Dictionary of affixes
This dictionary contains more than 1,250 entries, illustrated by some 10,000 examples, all defined and explained. It’s based on my book "Ologies and Isms: Word Beginnings and Endings", published by Oxford University Press in 2002. That went out of print in 2008 and I immediately made it available as a free service. For more about the site, see the Introduction. For more about me, see About the author.
May 2020. After a long hiatus, I have at last been able to find time to update this site to modern web standards. At the same time I’ve added a proper contact page and made numerous small edits and updates. I hope that more will follow.
About the author
This dictionary has been compiled and edited by Michael Quinion.
The types of "affix"
A "prefix" is an element placed at the beginning of a word to adjust or qualify its meaning, for example "de-", "non-", and "re-".
A "suffix" is an element placed at the end of a word to form a derivative, such as "-ation", "-fy", "-ing", frequently one that converts the stem into another part of speech.
A "combining form" can be either a "prefix" or a "suffix"; the difference is that the "combining form" adds a layer of extra meaning to the word. For example, "bio-" adds the idea of life or living things to words, as in "biochemistry", the study of the chemical processes which occur within living organisms; "-cide" adds the idea of killing or a killing agent, as in "pesticide". Compare these examples with a "prefix" such as "ex-" or a "suffix" such as "-ic", neither of which add meaning, but only modify an existing meaning.
"Combining forms" only appear as elements in a compound. If it can stand alone as a word it is not a "combining form". For example, "carbo-" only appears in compounds to indicate "carbon", but there are many related words that begin with "carbon-"; these are considered to be compound words and "carbon-" is not listed on this site as a "combining form". Having said that, in some cases a "combining form" has at some point in its life taken on the status of a free-standing word ("cyber-" is an example), but if its primary function is as a "combining form", it appears in its place in the text.
To be a "combining form" an element must be found attached to stems that also have intrinsic meaning; this excludes stems whose only compounds are grammatical variations, such as "intense" ("intensive", "intensively", "intensiveness").
An "infix" is placed within a word; these are rare in English, though "cupful" can be made plural as "cupsful" by inserting the "plural s" as an "infix"; "infixes" sometimes occur in facetious creations like "absobloodylutely" (which some grammarians would rather describe as "tmesis"). "Infixes" often appear as linking vowels between "prefixes" and stems, for example the final letters of "narco-" and "calci-". They are also found between a stem ending in a consonant and a "suffix" beginning with one, as with "-ferous", which frequently appears as "-iferous", or "-logy", which is commonly seen as "-ology". The only examples of such linking vowel infixes here are "-i-" and "-o-".
No formal identification is made in the text of the class of "affix" to which entries belong. The position of the hyphen is sufficient indication whether it is placed at the beginning, in the middle or at the end of a word: "neo-", "-i-", "-graphy".
Many "prefixes" that end in a vowel can lose that vowel when attached to a stem that begins in one, as for example "phlebo-" loses its final letter in "phlebitis". Such cases are marked by enclosing the final letter of the headword in parentheses: "phleb(o)-".
The term "productive" has a special sense throughout the site: it refers to an "affix" which is active in the language and which is being used by writers today to create new words.
- Index to letter A
Index of selected themes
- Biochemistry - Relating to the chemical and physico-chemical processes which occur within living organisms. See also Human body, Medicine and surgery.
- Biological classes - The classification of living things into groups such as genus and family. See also Living world.
- Chemical elements - The building blocks of matter. See also Substances.
- Chemical radicals - Referring to groups of atoms that behave as a unit in a number of chemical compounds.
- Colours - A surprisingly small group of terms for hues, both physical and organic.
- Culture & society - A spectrum of words relating to the actions and activities of people in groups. See also Religion and spirit.
- Diminutives - Implying smallness, either actual or imputed. See also Grammatical affixes.
- Direction & movement - Physical movement or position is implied; for movement in time, see Time.
- Gender - Indicating various qualities of maleness or femaleness or forming nouns with one of those qualities.
- Grammatical affixes - Those prefixes and suffixes that change the part of speech or function of a word without significantly amending its meaning. See also Negatives and Diminutives.
- Human body - A wide range of terms for organs and bodily processes. See also Medicine and surgery.
- Knowledge - As a subject of study, a skill in a subject of study, or a compendium of knowledge.
- Language & writing - Linguistics, varieties of language, or communication.
- Living world - A broad category relating to both plants and animals. See also Biological classes.
- Medicine & surgery - Diseases, conditions, injuries, infections, and medical techniques. See also Biochemistry and Human body.
- Miscellaneous - A catch-all class.
- Negatives - Grammatical prefixes indicating negation. See also Grammatical affixes.
- Physical world - A broad collection of terms from earth science, astronomy, mineralogy and physics.
- Places & peoples - Terms for geographical, cultural and religious groupings of peoples.
- Position - Includes some affixes indicating size as well as relative position and qualities relating to position. See also Direction & movement.
- Proportions - Affixes indicating qualities such as inequality, division, and relative size.
- Qualities - Intangible characteristics ranging from beauty to newness, from correctness to speed. See also Sensations.
- Religion & spirit - Worship, existence, and holiness.
- Sensations - Physical sensations experienced by the body, such as pain, vision, heat or pressure. See also Qualities.
- Shapes - This group includes affixes meaning crested, bent, circular, spiral or wheel-like.
- Substances - A broad category that includes items like wood and silk as well as some foodstuffs such as milk or wine. See also Chemical elements and Chemical radicals.
- Technology - Items here range from farming to computing and electronics to turbines.
- Time - Relationships in time and periods of time.
- Number words and prefixes
- Words for large numbers
- Traditional number prefixes
- International system of number prefixes
- Binary multiples for computer purposes